NBA Basketball

Thunder look to remain on roll vs. Bucks

OKLAHOMA CITY -- During the Oklahoma City Thunder's lackadaisical start to the season, the third quarter was a big problem.

The Thunder's field-goal percentage was an NBA-worst 40.8 percent during the third quarter in their first 29 games, when Oklahoma City was just 14-15.

But in its current six-game winning streak, the Thunder have started to turn that around.

Oklahoma City is shooting 53.6 percent from the floor in the third quarter during the streak and is scoring 119.2 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter, more than 20 points better than its pace before the streak.

"We've done it for five games, but we're 30-plus games into the season, and five out of (35) games ... it's not great," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "It's not. But we've done it here of late."

Donovan remains cautious about his team's recent success, which includes wins over Utah (twice), Houston and Toronto along with a win over Atlanta.

On Friday, the Thunder host Milwaukee at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Bucks, like Oklahoma City, have wins over some of the NBA's best teams. They've beaten Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio. They've also lost to Dallas and twice to Chicago.

The Bucks are the second opponent for the Thunder that will be playing the second night of a back-to-back.

Milwaukee fell behind early but fought back with a big fourth quarter to beat Minnesota 102-96 at home Thursday night after trailing by as many as 20 early.

The Bucks won for the third time in five games, thanks to Eric Bledsoe scoring 16 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter.

The win began a critical stretch for Milwaukee, who are in a tight bunch in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Starting with the win over the Timberwolves, the Bucks have seven consecutive games against teams currently in playoff position, with only the first two games coming against Western Conference opponents.

"This is what they call the dog days -- the dog days of the NBA season," Milwaukee's Jason Terry told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "And it's the mentally tough teams, the veteran, playoff teams, that are the ones that push through and come out of here with an above .500 record."

This figures to be one of those stretches that, if the Bucks come through positively, they'll be in much better position as they not only fight to make the playoffs but advance out of the first round for the first time since 2001.

On the other side, the Thunder are also looking to find consistency as the season nears the midpoint.

Not surprisingly, Russell Westbrook has been a big part of Oklahoma City's third-quarter success of late.

Before the streak, Westbrook was shooting just 34.4 percent in the quarter, but in the last six games, Westbrook is shooting 66.7 from the floor.

Even during the streak, the Thunder have had two dismal third quarters -- being outscored 32-18 by the Nuggets and 31-18 by Atlanta.

Donovan might be cautious about Oklahoma City's improvement, but Carmelo Anthony is not.

"We know that early on in the season that was a point that we were struggling at, coming out of that third quarter," Anthony said. "We've turned that all the way around now."

Updated December 28, 2017

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